For the past 3 years, the month of June has has been a very difficult month for me. It’s the month my beloved mom lost her battle to cardiomyopathy 3 years ago. It wasn’t my first time losing a loved one in death. I’d also lost my aunt, my uncle, cousins and dear friends prior to that. I felt all those losses deeply but to this day, nothing compares to the loss of my mom.
The bond we shared was the closest bond I’ve ever shared with another human being. This was the person who cherished me even when I was just an embryo and almost died while giving birth to me, but always said she’d do it again in a heartbeat because I was worth it. This was someone who had kissed me even when I had snot running down my face and someone who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. This was someone who got a murderous glint in her eyes every time someone hurt me, and someone who sacrificed a lot and worked very hard as a single parent, just so her children would have the best that she was able to give.
Needless to say, losing her was the most devastating and heartbreaking experience I’ve ever been through. My heart still breaks when I think about her last few weeks on earth.
The first time I visited her in the hospital she seemed fine, just a little tired. We joked about something silly and had to restrain our laughter so as not to disturb the other patients in the ward. She was soon discharged from the hospital and everything seemed hunky dory. To my surprise, she insisted on visiting her brother in sister in Durban, 600 km away. I told her that she needed her rest and suggested she visit them a month later, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She just had to leave the following day. There was just no stopping her.
She came back a few days later, happy she’d seen them. One day I found her sorting out her insurance policies and neatly putting them in a file.She also tidied up her closet. I found that a little worrying but tried to be positive. We didn’t talk about it. Instead, I took her shopping. She didn’t want anything for herself, she only wanted to help me pick out some clothes for myself. We disagreed about what she thought looked good on me, as we often did whenever we went shopping. I took her to a restaurant for lunch but she barely even touched her food. She said she was tired,so we went back home and she went to lie down in her room. That was the last time we went out together.
Soon thereafter, things spiraled out of control . Suddenly, my days consisted of regular visits to Jo’burg General Hospital. White walls. Hospital smells. Ill patients and worried family members. The sound of the heart monitoring machine. The cold and nasty smelling anti bacterial liquid I had to rub on my hands before and after exiting the ICU ward. Every time I entered the room, I’d quickly look at her bed and let out a huge sigh of relief, grateful she was still lying on her bed and not in the morgue. I also felt anxious, helpless and angry at I don’t know whom. She didn’t belong there, not my mom.
I also remember lots of people talking to me, asking how I was holding up, how my mom was doing? Some said I could call them if I needed anything. I took one such person’s offer and asked if she would be kind enough to take me to the hospital one particular day, but she back tracked on her promise. I never asked anyone else for help after that.
I withdrew into myself, said the bare minimum to people, watched them cry for my mom as if she were already dead, avoided their sorrowful eyes, reciprocated their hugs but not enough to get to the point of completely surrendering and breaking down. I felt I needed to be strong because people told me I was strong.
However, there were two instances where I did break down. The first time I walked into the ICU and saw my mom lying there, looking completely emaciated, and having a defeated look in her eyes, I began to sob uncontrollably. She had silent tears running down her cheeks, but she was too weak to break down the way I broke down. I got home that night and broke down again when my 5 year old niece asked if mamma was coming home anytime soon. To my surprise, she didn’t shed a tear when she saw my reaction. She looked at me with a precocious look that far exceeded her age and wrapped her tiny arms around me. I felt so comforted.
Three weeks before her death, the doctors told us to prepare for the worst. My poor brother wept, that was his first visit to the hospital. I felt numb.
I continued to visit her regularly. A few times I stayed away from the hospital because it hurt too much to see her like that. But I’d always gather my strength and go back. I’d rub some lotion on her swollen feet and talk to her, even though she was unconscious. It felt like a knife stabbing me to the very core whenever the doctors would skip her bed when they did their rounds in the ward, as if she had already died. She wasn’t dead yet. I could still feel her presence and she could feel mine. She would always react whenever I came close to her and she’d turn her head towards me whenever I spoke to her.
I just had to treasure those moments with her because I knew she’d be gone soon.